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JULY 2022


    The whole thing was a long shot―a desperate Hail Mary. Not exactly the best strategy, but when one was out of options, it was the only thing left. Sometimes it works.

She quickly glanced left and right and pulled the brow of her ball cap low before crossing the street. The pickup schedule glued to the mailbox on Beaufort's Front Street was cracked, faded, and barely legible. No doubt weathered from decades of coastal North Carolina's predictable weather patterns of sun, rain, more sun, and the occasional hurricane. With the apropos skull and crossbones postal stamp affixed, the wax-sealed letter slid down the mailbox shoot, disappearing into the dark depths like a wounded ship's journey to Davy Jones's Locker.

    Done.  Now let’s see if Kensington takes the bait...




    George nodded agreement and looked Kensington in the eye. “Of course, this letter could just be a hoax perpetrated by one of your old university students. It wouldn't be the first time.”

    “I thought of that, but I know of none that are stateside. Besides, it's been five years since I walked away from my professorship at Oxford. What would be the gain anyway? No, I dismissed that possibility.” A smile spread across his face. “I dismissed it when that nagging voice inside returned screaming, “Here's your next venture, Kensington'.”

    “Don't get me wrong, mate, I've never minded the voices in your head. It's only when you go from listening to answering them that I take issue with. And then trouble always finds us.”

    Kensington halfway chuckled. “This time, we'll probably find it.”

    “Right, then. Funny thing about trouble; it always starts off fun but somehow ends with e-r-a-l.”


    “F-u-n-e-r-a-l, you wally. And probably mine. But no worries. I'm in mate.”


    He looked at Buster; “I know it's elementary, my dear boy, but I must remind myself from time to time that you are a dog. That said, can I assume your indifference to my question is simply because you are happy and go lucky regardless of where you are?”

    “Well, I have been called worse. But I do concur with the happy-go-lucky part.”

    “Buster, I always knew this day would come. It took you long enough to speak, though, you git.”

    “Very funny,” Evie said, as she moseyed up behind him. “How did you sleep?”

    Ian turned to face her. His eyes did the smiling. “The best in years,” he answered and looked around. “Feels like back home, only warm and fuzzy. I didn't wake you, did I?”

    “No, not at all. Actually, that's not true. The room I stay in is directly above the kitchen. I smelled the coffee.”

    “I couldn't find the tea.”

    She laughed and lifted her coffee mug to her lips. Her robe fell open when she did, exposing her sleeping shorts, t-shirt, and tanned legs. “Have you been out on the rooftop balcony yet? It's quite different in daylight.”

    “Hmm. No, not yet.”

    With coffee mug in hand, she gestured toward the cut-glass French doors in front of them. “The view is so amazing from up high. You can see the big picture,” she emphasized and continued, “and most of the whole island. The Cape Lookout lighthouse is to the southeast.”

    “Lead the way. What's the big picture?”

    “You'll see it. I'm sure of it.”

    Her answer seemed a bit vague, Ian thought.

    Evie took a few steps, then spun around to face him and walked backwards toward the doors while speaking. “You know, speaking of pictures, if I had my sketch pad, I'd make you pose for me.” She stopped walking. “The way the soft morning light spills over you, and the dark bookcase frames your, your body. . . Well, I, I guess I'll just have to capture the shot in my mind's eye for another time.”

    “An artist too. Multifaceted, I see.”

    “You could say that. I studied abroad in my, younger trying to find myself, years. One of those crazy summers, I backpacked across France and Italy, museum to museum, the last being the Accademia Gallery in Florence. I returned daily for the better part of a week to draw David, Michelangelo's masterpiece.”

    “I've been there. They keep you moving. How'd you manage to stay all day and draw?”

    “I flirted with the right guy.”

    Ian remained silent.

    “I have a nice smile? Okay, alright. Claudio Marchetti.” She grinned. “Just some Italian guy I went out with for a couple of weeks. He had ties.” She winked. “He pulled some strings for me.”

    Hmm. Family or ties you wear?

    She abruptly tilted her head. “You know, standing there like that with your shirt hanging open and your—” she waved the back of her hand “—your sculptured chest, and all, you kinda remind me of that marble figure.”

    Nice job changing the subject.

    “Hmm. Thanks.” Ian smiled and fastened a few buttons.

    Evie took another sip of her coffee and with a ballerina's pirouette escorted him through the doors. On the balcony, the warmth of the sun greeted their skin. So too, the windblown scents of the sea, their noses. And the morning symphony of songbirds, their ears. Ian remained still taking it all in.

    “Enchanting, isn't it?”

    “Aye, that it is,” he answered, watching the sun play hide and seek behind the mountainous peak of a cumulus cloud.

    “Legend has it, the island's siren-like attraction is what seduced Blackbeard to retire here.”

    Ian grinned. “I'm beginning to think it's not just a legend,” he said, as they selected two of the dozen Adirondack chairs scattered about. Ian spun them around to face forward and settled into one and Evie the other.


    “What about Buster? Didn't he hear or smell the intruder?” George asked, adding, “The rotten nob—the intruder, not Buster.”

    Ian and Evie exchanged looks—his annoyed, hers suppressing a grin. “Yeah, about him—that lazy sod. Jack the Ripper could have been cuttin' me heart and lungs out right next to him, and Buster would be none the wiser. He was about as useful as you were back at Oxford after one of your benders.”

    George shifted in the chair. “Hey, that was a long time ago. Times are different. As a rule, I don't even drink anymore,” he said, defending himself, then reached across to take the glass from his wife's hands. “As a habit I do—” he took a swig “—but as a rule I don't,” he said, and handed her the glass back.

    Evie snickered.

    Ian shook his head. “All right, funny man. So, what happened down there?” Ian asked.

    George recounted how after leaving the house the night before, they had gone to the boathouse apartment but couldn't sleep for all the excitement. Since it was a pleasant evening, and despite being late, we decided to take a ride to the Sleuth to pick up—” he stopped and nodded toward his wife.

    “To pick up my hairdryer and curling iron, I'd forgotten them.” Gracie pushed up on her hair. “As you can see, I needed them this morning.”

    “We jumped into the runabout for a quick jaunt. It was probably about 2 AM by the time we reached the dock,” George told them. “We took a leisurely stroll down it but about halfway, we saw a flashlight bouncing about inside through the porthole windows. I thought maybe you were onboard looking for something.”

    “At two in the morning? And with a flashlight?” Ian questioned.

    “Yeah, well, I know you. We've pulled many all-nighters in our day, but I did wonder why you didn't just flip a switch. Anyway, we boarded, and I stepped down into the galley, and that knob hit me from the side,” he said, touching the bandage above his eye. “But like I said, he hit like a Spice Girl. Unfortunately, the bugger had help and caught me by surprise. Got me from behind,” he said, touching the lump on the back of his head this time. “But before he did, I managed to climb back onto the stern and yell for Gracie to run. Next thing I knew, I hit the deck with my face and woke up to your ugly mug,” he told Ian, smiling.

    Gracie told the story from there. “I managed to jump to the dock and ran as fast as I could. I could hear the bastard behind chasing me, and I knew I wouldn't have time to stop to get away in the runabout, so I kept running. I decided to stay off the path so I could hide in the woods, and so I ran to the right, and in the dark discovered what looked to be a skinny path. I figured it was a shortcut to the boathouse. I managed to get my mobile out and tried calling you, but there was no signal. Just before the end of the path, he caught up to me, overpowered me, and dragged me back to the boat. That son-of-a-bitch.”

    Ian reached into his back pocket and handed the phone to her. “I found it on the path. There isn't a strong enough signal on the island, but I'm going to change that as soon as I can,” he said, and touched her arm. “Continue, please.”

    Gracie nodded. “Next thing I knew, they tied and gagged me and threw me in the crew's

forward head where you found us. About ten minutes after that, they tossed George in too.”

    Evie's eyes flared, her face tightening to a shade of red. “Those friggin' animals.”

Ian looked at Evie, and like he'd done to Gracie, touched her arm in a consoling manner. His touch seemed to sooth her outrage. He watched her eyes bounce from him back to Gracie. “Did you get a look at their faces?” she asked.

    Gracie shook her head.

    Ian tipped his nose at George. “Did you?”

    “Nah, too dark, mate,” George told him.

    “What about their voices?” Evie asked. “Anything distinctive?”

    George shook his head but Gracie nodded. “Yes. It was a rather strange dialect. Nothing I would have guessed would be American other than the southern part. It was a cross between our British accent and an American southern accent, a weird combination and hard for me to understand, even as a Brit.”

    “You just described the dialect of ninety percent of the residents in the downeast part of the county. It's called the Ocracoke brogue. It is kinda strange, and those who speak it are commonly referred to as High Tiders but pronounced Hoy Toyders,” Evie told them using the same accent.

    “That's it! That's what it sounded like.” Gracie said.


    “I wouldn't shed many of those over that boy, Evie. Unless I miss my guess, I'm pretty sure it's been him doing Emmett's dirty work, and probably for a long time,” George said from behind as Ian stepped through the doorway first, pulling Evie with him.

    Without warning, a loud explosive noise rang out so close it was sure to rupture any of their eardrums. Ian fell backward into the house knocking Evie into George. Before his back hit the floor, his right hand, still holding his Colt 45, extended upward and fired at the same time the knife flew from George's right hand. Both men hit their mark on the intended target as Emmett stepped through the doorway with his own gun extended toward Ian, ready to pull the trigger a second time. George's knife sank hilt deep, dead center of Emmett's chest at the same time an enormous amount of blood and brain matter splattered in every direction from the gaping hole in Emmett's forehead caused by the bullet from Ian's gun. The man's arms flew up toward the ceiling as his forehead jerked backward and his torso twisted sideways. His body flew backwards but bounced off the door frame and fell forward into the house, landing directly on top of Ian. Emmett's blood pooled on the floor. . . mixing with Ian's.

Thank you for reading these few excerpts of my completed novel, THE SENTINEL HOUSE Family Secrets. Please join my mailing list to be notified when the book is available from the publisher!

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